Written By Sam Heward
Sam is one of the Ultra X Co-Founders. If he's not actually out running, chances are he's busy writing about it (or plotting Ultra X strategy!)
As we’ve mentioned previously, one of the most important aspects of race strategy is hydration. It is also something that is often managed poorly. This can have a devastating impact, both on performance and physical condition.
Staying hydrated does not simply mean drinking lots, rather it is principally about maintaining the correct balance of electrolytes whilst maintaining hydration levels, and this will be different for everyone.
The stresses placed on the body in an extreme environment like Jordan or Sri Lanka mean that most people do consider it when planning their race fueling, but it’s not an easy thing to work out.
We are therefore delighted to announce that for Ultra X Jordan we are teaming up with Precision Hydration – “The Sweat Experts”. This is a key partnership for us and means that we get to give our customers the best possible opportunity to create the right hydration plan.
All competitors for Ultra X Jordan will be able to benefit from a free online Sweat Test to learn about their personal hydration requirements. They will also have access to an initial plan and a discount on Precision Hydration electrolyte drinks, that match how they sweat.
PH’s products are also going to be available out in Jordan to help you start and stay hydrated during the event.
The Sweat Test – what and why?
To many, doing a Sweat Test may seem like an odd step in preparing for an ultramarathon. However, by working out your sweat rate and, importantly “saltiness”, it is possible to work out 1) how much fluid you are likely to lose over the course of a race, and 2) how much salt you lose in that sweat (and as a result how much of both you need to take on board to keep the engine topped up).
One of our co-founders went for one to find out a bit about the process.
How it works
Two small electrodes are put onto your forearm. This stimulates a small patch of skin on your forearm to sweat. A sample is then drawn into a watch-like Sweat Collector and run through a machine to tell you how salty your sweat is. Simple.
The quicker it fills up, the more you sweat! It takes less than 15 minutes, is done at rest, and is non-invasive.
What I expected: My instinct was that I didn’t sweat much and I wasn’t that salty – I tend to perform well in hotter environments and whilst I do quite a lot of miles all year round I can’t honestly remember a time when I’ve cramped up during a run or a race.
In hot ultras I’ve always just drank water and taken salt tabs every 30 mins – 1 hour (I’m not a fan of the flavoured electrolyte drinks), but this has just been based on generic advice rather than something tailored for me.
Turn’s out that I was partially right. I lose 819mg of sodium per litre of sweat, so apparently I am a “moderately salty sweater”, however, my sweat rate was pretty high. It turns out that one of the reasons that I perform well in the heat could still be due to my sweating – I sweat enough to cool me down, but not too much to leave me low in salt.
I was given a tailored hydration plan for a race, and also told what to use in training. This has given me a load of food for thought going forward.
What I found super interesting was that I learnt not only about what to do during events – which is of course important – but also about the before and after, as well as what to drink during training. So often the focus is purely on the race, but going forward I’m going to put a lot more attention into what I’m consuming before, as well as in my training.
My big takeaways:
1) Consider hydration in training
A lot of athletes start training mildly dehydrated on a regular basis and as such can run the risk of starting any longer/more intense training sessions less than optimally hydrated, impacting on training performance which will, in turn, impact race performance.
2) Pre-load on electrolytes as well as carbs
By taking a strong electrolyte (I was recommended a 1,500mg/l drink, which is ~3x stronger than your typical electrolyte drink) before competing in a long race, I was told I can effectively “pre-load”.
By doing this I will start races with a bigger reserve of fluids and electrolytes to draw upon. Boosting blood plasma volume before intense exercise has been proven to enhance performance, especially in hot conditions. Having more blood makes it easier for the cardiovascular system to meet the competing demands of cooling you down and delivering oxygen to your muscles.
What also surprised me was that the electrolyte solution recommended before was much stronger than what I was recommended during.
3) Remember recovery
Restoring hydration levels is a crucial part of the recovery process. Research shows that drinks containing sodium enable better rehydration as it allows the body to hold onto more of the fluid. As such, it just as important to get that 3:1 carbs to protein fuel in straight away post exercise, as it is to ensure proper hydration.
Having been through the process, I would recommend Precision Hydration to anyone who is serious about their training and performance.
You can take their free online Sweat Test here and, if you want to give their multi-strength electrolytes a try, use the code ULTRAX15 to get 15% off your first order.
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